Protecting the Coast, but at What Cost?
Fidelis E. Satriastanti
Ujang’s life has never been the same since Jakarta undertook a major reclamation project on its northern coast in early 2000s.
The 43-year-old man used to be a fisherman, earning a living by catching shrimp and bringing in a healthy supply of fish.
Now he works at another profession. These days you can find him whisking people around the Cilincing area as a motorcycle taxi driver.
“Like it or not, I had to switch profession,” said the father of two. “As a fisherman my life was better. But now it is impossible [to be a fisherman]. I have to survive.”
Ujang explained that since the Jakarta administration built a sea barrier to reclaim the northern coast, he and other fishermen are finding it hard to catch fish because of the environmental damage.
“It is a hard catch. The water is polluted, full of oil,” he said. “Back in the day, we could get tens of kilos [of fish]. In one day we could make between Rp 70,000 and Rp 100,000 [$7.30 and $10.50]. Now we struggle to earn Rp 20,000.
“I don’t go to sea anymore because it is worthless. In the past, being a fisherman was a way to make a living. Now it’s become a side job.
“We need to take a detour to reach the sea and catch some fish. That’s impossible for us because our boats are rowboats, not motorized ones. If a wave hits us, we will flip over, and our lives would be at stake.”
But the fishermen’s plight in Jakarta could get even worse. Late last month, the Jakarta administration announced it will soon draft a master plan for giant sea walls.
Government officials said the capital was in dire need of the giant walls because of the alarming subsidence rate, which is estimated to be between 10 and 20 centimeters per year. The ground level in some parts of North Jakarta has fallen by 4.1 meters.
A 2009 study by Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) climatologist Armi Susandi said a quarter of Jakarta will be submerged by 2050 because of a continually rising sea level, which he said was a by-product of global warming.
The drafting of the master plan is expected to start in late November.
Purba Robert M. Sianipat, an official working with the national Coordinating Ministry for the Economy, said the master plan was expected to be completed by 2014, after which construction could begin. The project is estimated to take 10 years to complete, which means the giant sea walls are expected to guard Jakarta along its northern coast by 2025.
According to Lazarus Rio Jambormias, chairman of the Jakarta Fishermen Community Forum (FMKN), even with the current sea wall in place, hundreds of fishermen struggle to keep their kids in school.
“Around 65 percent of children in vocational and junior high schools could be out of school because their parents wouldn’t be able to earn a living,” he said. “Their access is cut off by the Jakarta northern coast reclamation project.”
Lazarus showed off a bundle of files containing information about the hundreds of children who might not be able to stay in school.
“They are permitted to attend classes and take tests, but their academic report book and certificates are being held by the schools,” he said. “For public schools, we can still reason with them, the hard part is [talking] with private schools.”
Lazarus said nearly 75 percent of fishermen today have been forced to abandon that lifestyle. To make ends meet, they took on other professions and sometimes forced their children to go to work as well.
“A lot of the children become buskers along with their mothers to earn a living because it is impossible to survive by fishing,” he said.
The reclamation projects have also left 62 families without homes.
“Eventually, each family was given Rp 1 million as compensation, but what can you do with that much money in Jakarta?” he asked. “Now they live along a railway track near a dump site in North Jakarta. What else can they do? They eventually become scavengers because they only have enough money to live in places like that.”
The People’s Coalition for Fishery Justice (Kiara) suspects that there is more to the giant sea wall than protecting Jakarta.
“There is something wrong with the way the Jakarta Bay is managed where there is instead a land grab occurring. And suddenly a giant sea wall is built to protect investors without caring what it would do to the environment and the people there,” said Selamet Daroyni, Kiara’s manager for education and public support.
Selamet said that the land grab began when the Jakarta government began to convert 831 hectares of protected forest in Angke Kapuk into housing areas, golf courses and condominiums.
“According to the 1985-2005 spatial master plan, [the area] is declared as protected forest as well as a [natural] flood barrier to protect the Soekarno-Hatta airport,” he said. “In 2008, the government cut down 19 hectares of mangrove forest to expand the Sedyatmo toll road.”
Selamet said the conversion benefitted only property developers.
With the mangrove forest gone, tidal waves began attacking the coastal areas. The government responded with a sea wall and reclamation projects.
“There has been research on Jakarta’s north coast that showed that reclamation will only make the ecosystem worse,” he said.
Selamet quoted a study conducted by ITB that showed reclamation will increase the coast’s subsidence rate.
Meanwhile, a study by the University of Indonesia, he said, showed the project to be a bad investment with the losses incurred by citizens outweighing the benefits. “The losses incurred by Jakartans are three times more than the investment earmarked,” Selamet said.
The existing reclamation projects have burned through Rp 350 billion of taxpayers’ money, Kiara said.
Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo recently said that the new giant sea wall will cost $5 billion, funded by a grant from Dutch authorities.
“The main idea is to build a giant sea wall at a cost of $5 billion to prevent flooding from sinking land and rising sea levels,” he said.
Fauzi said the sea wall, which would create a huge dam, would serve multiple functions, including providing the capital’s residents with clean water.
But Kiara is trying to keep the project from going forward, saying that the wall project is illegal because no one consulted or got permission from the affected residents.
“The solution [to the tidal waves and increasing subsidence rate] should be to rehabilitate the ecosystem there, because the pressure faced by the coastal ecosystem is pretty high,” Selamet said.
“Increased activity there will only cause sea water intrusion and flooding.”